Personal injury litigants should understand the different stages of a personal injury lawsuit. Each stage is an important part of determining whether or not a defendant is liable for the victim’s injuries. A personal injury attorney will represent you at each stage of the case and be available to answer any of your questions or address any of your concerns.
Before a lawsuit is initiated, the plaintiff’s lawyer will meet with the potential plaintiff. The purpose of the meeting and the attorney’s request for documentation is to determine if there is a viable cause of action for the injuries sustained. If it appears that the plaintiff has a cause of action pursuant to state law then the plaintiff’s attorney will file a lawsuit and the following stages of a personal injury lawsuit will follow, unless the case is settled. The specific stages of a personal injury lawsuit include:
· Pleading: A personal injury lawsuit begins when the plaintiff files a formal pleading with the court called a complaint. The complaint explains why the defendant is being sued and what relief, or damages, is being sought. The defendant then has the opportunity to answer the complaint with a pleading that is appropriately called an answer. In the answer, the defendant admits or denies each of the allegations set forth in the plaintiff’s complaint. A defendant may also file a counterclaim and request relief from the plaintiff if the defendant feels that he was the injured party in the accident and the plaintiff may answer the counterclaim.
· Discovery: After the initial pleadings have been filed the parties engage in discovery. This is the formal process by which the plaintiff gathers information to prove his case and the defendant gathers information to defend himself. The discovery process may include interrogatories, depositions, requests for admissions and requests for documentation.
· Pre-trial Motions: the most common pretrial motions include motions in limine in which a party requests that certain evidence be excluded from trial, motions for summary judgment in which a party asks the court to find for that party because there are no issues of material fact in the case and that the moving party is entitled to judgment based on the undisputed facts and motions to dismiss in which the moving party asserts that even if everything the opposing party says is true that party does not state a claim that entitles the party to relief pursuant to the law.
· Settlement Talks / Conferences: settlement talks can occur at any time prior to a jury verdict being reached. Once a settlement is reached the case is closed. Many jurisdictions require a pretrial settlement conference before trial begins.
· Trial: during trial both sides present evidence. The plaintiff attempts to prove that the defendant committed each element of a legal cause of action and that the plaintiff is, therefore, entitled to damages. The defendant presents evidence to defend himself against the plaintiff’s allegations and to prevent paying damages.
· Verdict: At the end of the trial the jury, or the judge in the case of a bench trial, will render a verdict that determines if the defendant is liable and if so how much the defendant owes in damages.
· Appeals: Either party can appeal a decision if they believe that the decision was legally incorrect.
The stages of a personal injury lawsuit follow a logical sequence that is designed to have the greatest likelihood of achieving justice at trial. If you are involved in a personal injury lawsuit then the steps described above outline how your case should proceed.
The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.